This One Goes Out To The Farmers

I remember my first job out of high school. I used to work in a coffee shop and all the Suits would come in every Friday, every Friday for the entire six years that I worked there, and snicker to me about the joy of weekends…as I stood behind the bar and made their latte. Weekends don’t mean the same thing for those that work customer service. Saturdays and Sundays are just another work day. Those joyous days of respit don’t mean anything for those in “blue collar” jobs. And they especially don’t mean anything for those in no collar jobs, for those that work on a farm.

Today was Christmas eve. And I got up at first light to let the chickens out of the coop. And I tended to the plants. And I fed the dogs. And, in the afternoon, when most people are braving traffic on Christmas eve and wondering if they forgot the gift for Aunt Sally, I pulled eggs from the coop and washed them. And tomorrow, on Christmas, when even Walmart takes the day off, I will get up and do all the same things.

Tonight a water pipe in the orchard burst. I went outside after dinner and heard an unfamiliar fountain. When i got to the orchard by flashlight, a main hose was gushing. We had to shut off the valve.

I have written before about how really concerned I am that people are wholly unknowing about what it takes to produce food in this country. And why shouldn’t they be? For those that have money or food stamps, food seems plentiful. The grocery stores are stalked. McDonalds will be open on Christmas. For small, family farms, producing food locally, and for the community, there is no such thing as a holiday. If we take a day off, your food dies. And that would be more significant if there weren’t other options.

But the other options are shady, at best. According to an NY Press article published on June 15th 2010, federal farm subsidies have funneled billions of dollars “to the richest Americans, including notables like Ted Turner, David Letterman, Scottie Pippin, Paris Hilton’s grandpa, Chales Schwab, Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen and just about every single one of Sam Walton’s degenerate heirs.”. Our farm receives no subsidies.

Our farm does not bolster the foods or practices that our government subsidizes. We are organic. We don’t use synthetic fertilizer. We don’t buy genetically modified seed. We won’t touch Monsanto. We fortify our soil with home-grown worms and chicken compost. We rotate crops. We water from our well. And as consequence, our operation demands no days off. We don’t have workers that come in on the busy days. We are it.

And when our government’s subsidies fade, and they already have begun to, farms like ours will be our population’s access to food.

Our food is amazing. We produce home-grown, small-crop, organic, natural food. We feed ourselves and our community. There is nothing like a carrot out of the ground here, or a raspberry off the vine. Don’t even get me started about the spring asparagus or the Kadota figs of the summer. I could have died. But we do it ourselves. We do it without help, without subsidies. And we do it everyday of the year.

I planted peas the day before yesterday and I have to fix the irrigation to make sure they are watered. But they are worth it. Local food, and food security, is worth it.

It takes everyday of the year to produce sustainable food. Our days off are to the detriment of our community. So we don’t take days off.

But we take pause. When we see the fruits of our labor, and I mean the very literally, we are reminded of the same type of miracle that this time of year invokes.

This one goes out to all the farmers. Merry Christmas. Happy holidays. You have all my love.

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Big Enough To Take Over The World?

The newspaper in Nevada County, CA, “The Union,” recently reported that Lou Conter, a WWII hero, lost his house to foreclosure. He was 91 years old.

I lost my house to foreclosure. It was sad. But, for me, it wasn’t as devastating as it could have been. My husband-at-the-time and I were going through a divorce. We were going to have to sell the house anyway. In a way, we were lucky. The loss of our home was inevitable in our circumstances. Yet, when we bought the home, we never would have saw coming the way in which it unfolded.

For those who haven’t experienced the foreclosure crisis firsthand, I think there are a lot of misnomers about what happens. Let me share with you my experience.

My ex-husband and I were young professionals. We both had had the good fortune of college degrees and relatively well-paying jobs, for our age. We were about to be married. I was 25. He was 27. A month before our wedding, we became the proud owners of a modest two-bedroom-one-bath home in an affordable area. It was what real estate agents call a “starter home”. It was very much like what our parents had bought when they were our age.

The place was a mess. It was over 30 years old and belonged to an older couple. The wife had died and the husband was moving to an assisted care facility. The adult children regrettably had to sell. The entire place was covered in wall to wall faux-wood panelling. The whole house, including the kitchen and bathroom, had badly-stained, orange and lime shag carpeting. The back yard was full of weeds and black widows. We sunk $40,000 in credit card debt to make it our home. We spent our honeymoon, and the months after, refurbishing what we thought would be our long-time residence. We did the work ourselves.

When we bought the house, which was completely reasonable for our income, we were told “not to worry” about the adjustable rate mortgage, that we would be able to refinance in a few years and it would all be water under the bridge. We weren’t buying a house we couldn’t afford. We were duped.

The original mortgage payment on our Sacramento home was barely above the rent we were paying for a downtown apartment. Three years later, the mortgage payment jumped from $1,800 per month to $2,400 per month and then, three months after that, to $3,200 per month. We made every attempt to rectify our situation with the mortgage company, attempting a refinance and contacting every 800 number we could find.

It was a joke. Our original mortgage company, Countrywide Homeloans, had sold to Bank of America. When we tried to go into any tangible location, we found it closed. All offices were empty. Door locked. Lights off. The locations looked abandoned. When we tried to call, no one could give us any information. It went on for months, with attempts every day. Finally, we decided to walk away. We were months behind and there was no one who could help us.

But we had our whole lives ahead of us. We would figure it out.

Lou Conter has a different story. As The Union quoted, “[He is] one of the 18 remaining survivors aboard the USS Arizona in the Pearl Harbor attack.”. The Union goes on to say that “As a young man, Conter saved himself and his compatriots from the inferno of the USS Arizona on Dec 7, 1941, before going onto pilot numerous dangerous missions over hostile territories in the Pacific Theater and lead his breathen into fierce battles that ultimately decided the destiny of an entire nation,” Conter was unquestionably an American hero. And yet, at 91, he had his American house taken away from him.

Doesn’t it beg the question: who is really in charge here?

I had my house taken away. But I am not important. I didn’t fight in a war. I didn’t fight for American sovereignty. I am just me, part of the generation trying to make sense of things, trying to get by. Right now.

Lou Conter is a part of American history. As The Union states, “Lou Conter is a member of what some call the ‘Greatest Generation”. And now, sadly, he has his place in history in more ways than as an American hero. Lou Conter is a part of this generation’s current crisis, in addition to his own generation’s crisis. As The Union states, (and I whole heatedly agree,) “Conter…has earned the right to rest on his laurels and relay his experiences to younger generations…”

In a recent article by the Huffingtonpost.com, actor Matt Damon was criticized for criticizing our president. They noted that he told The Independent, “I think [Obama has] rolled over to Wall Street completely. The economy has huge problems. We still have all these banks that are too big to fail. They’re bigger and making more money than ever…”

I appreciate Damon’s criticism. For me it points back to my question above: who is really in charge here?

I’m a minor historian, in the academic sense…but too big too fail? Like what? Like the railroads? Like “The Beatles”? Like Paris Hilton? Like the The Third Reich? What does that mean? “Too big to fail?”

I think it’s a fair question. And it needs some academic aptitude. We live on a finite planet. So there is no such thing as “too big to fail”. But the fact that there are those who believe such a notion leads me to evaluation.

We are a nation of debt. But, almost more importantly, we are a world of debt. The European crisis is about debt. The Japanese crisis is about debt. The less-publicized Chinese crisis is about debt. Nations all over the world, both East and West, are in debt. According to scholar Charles Eisenstein, because of compound debt, “The powers that be recognize that the pyramid can’t be maintained…things are unraveling fast.”

Are we in debt to each other? Sort of. But not really. At the heart, at the heart of all of this, without going too much into the tricky and sordid mathematics of what we are facing, we are all in debt to a greater monetary entity known as “banks”. Just for America, we are trillions of dollars in debt. The fact that there are organizations who can change and determine the terms of our nation, the term of its debt, companies like S&P, should be an alarming reality to our people. On the C-Realm podcast, Charles Eisenstein further makes the point that the entire world’s GDP, the resources of the entire world at hand, exceeds the resources of the world we have within the debt of the world we owe. We can never truly pay what we owe. Never. Not monetarily.

My analysis is somewhat watered down, but it is on purpose. We have to see this in the plainest terms. We cannot continue trying to justify our debt. We have to bring this argument home; we have to see it for what it is: We are not a sovereign nation. We owe.

If the people most responsible for preserving the promises of this nation, those like Lou Conter, are not benefiting from the promises of this nation, then who is?

We are being held hostage. The people, our laws, and our politicians (our elected officials, those who are supposed to speak for us) are being held accountable to an entity that is not our nation. It is real. It is extreme. And it is dire.

We cannot take truth in those who should defend us. We cannot hold those accountable because they have not been there for us. Our electeds are bought. And we must make way for a new place in society.

People and houses are real things. They are tangible. Money is not. We have real resources we must attend to. Money is a pretend construct. Our money, is no longer backed by the gold standard. Money only holds the value of the faith we put into it.

Why then, especially when we have real, tangible resources we should attend to, like human beings, are our policy makers still focusing on the management of money?

I am suggesting that it is not only possible, but probable, that those in charge of running the world, no longer see the people of the world as a viable resource or as a priority. And that it very, very scary.

The Gifts We Had No Intention Of Giving

This is how the weekend was supposed to go:

I was going to take my partner camping for her birthday. My father’s family has rural property in Mendocino County and I have keys to the gate. We were going to plant tulips on the hill and garlic and onions behind the barn. We were going to snuggle in the tiny trailer, wrapped in the two-person sleeping bag, safe from the winter chill. We were going to visit the hot springs resort down the road and soak a bit. I was going to cook our meals on a camp stove. We had planned to do a technology detox so no phones, no email, no texting, no nothing. We left our phones at home. We have been short on money so a camping trip seemed perfect. My partner was understanding about the fact that we didn’t have any store-bought gifts for her, and was really looking forward to the trip and time together as a celebratory offering. It was going to be awesomeness. We packed the car, hitched our tear-drop trailer, grabbed the keys, got our neighbor’s dog, Jack, (we were dog-sitting) into the backseat, and set off to beautiful Mendocino County for outdoor adventures and fresh air.

Here’s what actually happened:

About 45 minutes into what is usually a 4-hour drive, the darling, fluffy dog threw up all over himself and the backseat. He was car sick. I couldn’t blame him. Both the first 20 miles and the last 20 miles of the drive took place on snaking, winding, pot-holed roads. They weren’t fun by day and were pitch-black treachery by night. I was woozy too but I never knew a dog who didn’t want to just stick his floppy ears and tongue out the window and go for a ride. The car smelled like processed chicken, toxic acid and wet dog. I could tell by looking at him that he thought it smelled as awful as we did. His two-different colored eyes looked at me with such guilt and forlorn, fearing he was in trouble and wallowing in his discomfort. We stopped as soon as we could to wash him off and clean the car and backseat—which was doubling as his dog-bed for the weekend. We spent the drive making frequent stops to walk him and give him water. Every time he got out, he had to be picked up to be put back in the car and cried when he got there. After a very long drive, my partner, Jack and I got to camp, just as the sun was setting.

It took Jack about two seconds to fall in love with the place. He pranced around, wearing his new, blue harness, smelling everything he could and trying to encourage us to do the same. I stood trying to open the gate while Jack stared up at me and wagged his tail. I had both sets of keys in case the new copies didn’t work. I tried the first set and the keys wouldn’t even fit into the keyhole. I tried the second set with the same result. I tried the first set again. Second set. First set.

“Did your family change the locks?” My partner asked.

“I don’t think so. If they had, they would have sent me the new keys.”

I suggested that we venture down to the barn and check the lock to the barn. Jack was happy to lead the way, running up and down the sides of the dirt road, ears flopping in the orange light of dusk. I wheeled the giant, creaking barn door open and found the lock to the office inside. I tried all eight keys with no luck. I went back outside to examine the keys in what was left of the sunlight.

“These are the wrong keys.” I concluded.

My partner is pretty much the sweetest person in the world and responded with, “That’s okay. We could just drive home.”

I told her that I was sorry for ruining her birthday. I was trying to think. We could walk down to the property without unlocking the gate but we weren’t able to get the trailer or the car off the road. My head was spinning. It was her birthday weekend. I didn’t want to drive back down the road in the dark. I couldn’t put Jack back in the car for another long trek. We had no phones so there was no one we could call. I took a deep breath so that I wouldn’t cry.

I offered, “Why don’t we just see if they have any rooms at the springs?” I couldn’t exactly afford it but I was willing to not pay my phone bill for a couple of weeks in order to sort the situation out.

To our dismay, and especially to Jack’s, we got back in the car and drove another mile to park our car and our trailer in the resort parking lot.

I must have sounded like an idiot to the older, red-haired man at the front desk. “Hi. I’m really sorry. I’m the youngest daughter of the guy who owns the property up the road and we were gonna camp there and I brought the wrong keys and I have my trailer but we can’t park it on the property because we can’t open the gate and we were wondering if there were any openings available.”

The man at the front desk was the owner. He smiled at me sweetly. He said that he was coming down the road just before and watched me try to turn the trailer around at the gate. Apparently, he has known my dad for years.

Throughout my life I have visited the springs many times but I have never stayed there. Years ago, before I was born, the springs used to be part of my family’s property. My grandmother was born at the resort, in the first decade of the 1900s, before people owned cars on a regular basis and had the option to drive to a nearby hospital, back when all people were welcomed into the world by the community. Her mother and father were farmers and lived on the property. The resort was sold in the 1970s to the man behind the front desk. There was a room available for both nights and he comped it.

The situation left me a little dumbfounded. We were able to leave the trailer in the parking lot, even though we were taking up two parking spaces. The resort didn’t allow dogs but Jack was going to sleep in the car anyway and, being half-husky and half-chow, didn’t mind the cold. I didn’t like the idea of him being so far away from me but, by the time I had gotten back to the car with the news, he was fast asleep. He had had a hard day.

I had been having a hard few weeks. I spent the evening before we left to go camping at a friend’s house, having a serious discussion about depression. I have felt very lonely lately and like I have been observing humanity at its worst these past few weeks. I was at a very low place emotionally. This new twist of fate seemed too good to be true but was a welcome wrinkle in time. My partner and I grabbed our clothes, our books, and the food from the cooler and we headed to our room.

What we found was simple and wonderful. Our room was just a bed and some lamplight. The resort uses shared bathrooms, which were across the way from where we were housed. There was a lodge for communal gatherings with a dining room and game room, a library and a kitchen for everyone to store their food and to prepare food. It was immediately apparent that the place contained a collaborative and cooperative attitude. And people were happy. Five cooks buzzed around the kitchen, back and forth, chopping over a prep table and cooking over a large stove. Three women found laughter, sharing a bottle of wine in the dining room. Two very fat cats slept on couches near the library. It wasn’t what we had planned but it was exactly what we had needed.

***

I had a hard time sleeping, worrying about Jack in the car, even though we had checked on him just before we went to bed and found him soundly sleeping. We awoke to a still-black sky and got dressed, went to the kitchen for toast, making a cup of tea to take with us. When we opened the car door, Jack stretched elaborately as though we had interrupted a meaningful dream and then wagged his tail with delight. He ate a big breakfast while we packed our tools, gloves, and the seeds and bulbs we had brought with us. We hitched a leash to the cute dog and walked up the hill, skipping as the sky lightened.

My partner and I spent her birthday morning planting tulips, hyacinth, alium and narcissus on a hill over-looking the barn on my family’s property. It was her idea and, at the same time, something I had wanted to do my whole life. Jack spent the morning running up and down and all around. Together, we dug holes and discovered mushrooms, enjoying the chill in the air and the heat of hard work. We had planted over two-hundred flowers and found about five or six different kinds of mushrooms. I regretted not bringing my field guide. By lunch time, Jack had tuckered himself out and was sleeping next to the barn. I chained him up and left him food and water, heading back down the hill to the springs.

My partner and I took time to soak in the hot springs and read for a bit. We ate rice and beans for lunch before heading back to plant the onions and garlic. When we got back to the barn, Jack was running around, no longer chained up and no longer wearing his new harness. He thought the situation was hysterical as he ran up to us, ears bobbing and tongue flopping. I was not happy to see his harness in a heap by the barn but I was glad that he didn’t run away.

My partner and I set to planting garlic and onions behind the barn. We threw rocks behind the pig pen as we found them and planted the bulbs in clumps of three wherever we could find enough rock-less space. After not an hour, we were greeted by eight women of varying ages hiking up from the springs.

I assume that everyone in my family knows that the “no trespassing” signs are ignored by hikers. Our barn has been burgled several times and, more than once, we’ve arrived to find piles of beer cans out back. What is left of the fences, where there are any fences left, remain a suggestion at best.

I hate seeing hikers on the property. It makes for an uncomfortable situation. I can always hear my father’s voice in my head reminding me that we could be sued if someone hurts themselves while trespassing. I’m sure that this is part of why the “ownership” of property seems so ridiculous to me. Not only does my family have a piece of paper that indicates that we have dominion over a certain part of the earth but, if we share that part of the earth with a stranger, we could face monetary consequences in doing so.

“How’s it going?” I asked the women, trying not to sound too much like I was asking the inevitable, “What are you doing here?” I knew what they were doing. They were doing what I have been doing in the same place my whole life. The 100-year-old barn, and the meadow and creek behind it, are beautiful. They were beholding.

My partner and I were both holding shovels. We must have looked pretty official because right away one of the women apologized. And right away I felt sheepish.

I held out my hand, “I’m Hilary.” I explained that my family owned the property and that we were planting onions and garlic. We introduced everyone. I wasn’t clear on how the women knew each other exactly. They were of varying ages. They all belonged to some unofficial club that thread them together. The woman who had spoken first asked about the history of the place, explaining that she had visited a few years back. I hesitated for a moment and then got an idea.

“Do any of you know anything about mushrooms?”

The ten of us stood there exchanging an oral history for field guidance. I told them about how my family used to graze sheep and showed them where there was still wool in the shed. They identified the little yellow mushrooms near the shed as Waxy Cap. I told them that my grandmother was born at the hot springs. They showed me a set of medium-sized brown mushrooms and everyone agreed that it was Hydnum. They asked if I had any family that lived nearby. I explained that my Great Aunt Hulda used to live nearby but died last year, just before her 100th birthday. I showed them the rock where my Uncle Alfred sat down and took his last breath. They showed me a white mushroom not to eat unless I’m hoping to take mine. We laughed.

They continued their hike and we stayed and continued to plant. I’m not sure if we will have onions and garlic in the spring or if we spent a wonderful afternoon laboring to hide presents for deer and gophers. In this case, I don’t think the harvest really matters.

***

We had to put Jack back in the car while we ate an early dinner. We laughed over spicy polenta and rice, recalling the magic of the day. We wrote letters to our family and drank tea. The weekend felt pre-ordained, like kismet, completely aligned with the intention of the universe to allow us to have a peaceful weekend, full of gratitude, sharing and communal living.

“The only thing I feel bad about is Jack.” I said. I knew he was having a good time running around but I still felt bad about the car ride and was dreading the trip home. I hated that we weren’t sleeping close enough in order to watch over him at night.

After the sun set, we grabbed a flashlight and decided to take Jack for a long walk. After walking down the road, and out of the lamplight from the resort, we were surrounded by complete darkness. We could no longer see the resort behind us when, suddenly, the light from our flashlight caught trace of a human figure in the night. We came upon a man in a large hooded coat, standing not 10 feet from us, silently in the pitch blackness along the road. I tensed.

I tried to justify in my mind, all the reasons a man might be standing out in the dark, by himself, along a rural road. I failed to come up with a savory scenario.

I rested my judgmental inferences on Jack, cooing to him, “It’s okay buddy. It’s just a new person.” I made sure to say it loud enough so that the man in the dark could hear me, as though Jack could, at any moment, bite him. Of course, Jack might only lick him to death, but the man didn’t know that. And then I thought about how rude I was being and said “hello.” The man gave a polite greeting back. It was friendly and his voice was kind.

Still as we walked away, knowing that we would have to walk back, I was glad for Jack and understood why he was there.

I thought about my partner and I being stranded and what that would mean for us. Jack loved us but he wasn’t our dog and wouldn’t always be there. I thought about all the self-defense classes I’ve taken. I thought about the violent world we live in. My partner and I walked along silently until we knew we were out of ear shot.

“What do you think he was doing? Waiting for a ride?” I wondered aloud.

If she answered, I don’t remember what she said then.

We approached a fog bank in a depression along the road and decided to turn around. We didn’t know if the man would still be there as we walked back. We didn’t talk about what we would do if he was. We surrendered ourselves to the cold night air. I think we both just hoped for the best.

The man was still alone, though closer to the parking lot and in the lamplight. We said nothing as we passed. We put the tired dog to bed.

Even, in all my worry, I declined to lock the car. If someone saw Jack, and worried for his safety, or if Jack himself was found to be upset, I wanted him to find rescue. The folks working at the springs knew he was there and the eight women from the hike knew he was sleeping in the car. If other visitors found him to be upset, I knew they would tend to him and his presence would be made known to us. If we had to take him home a night early, we were prepared to do so.

We showered and settled into the lodge to read and have tapas as a second dinner. As we sat in the dining room, the man from the road came in, still wearing his hooded jacket. He sat on one of the couches with the cats, across from three giggling women and their wine. He stared at the wall and didn’t talk to anyone. I knew for certain then that he wasn’t staying at the springs and that he was cold and hungry. Because the employees manning the front desk were in and out, they didn’t know he wasn’t a paid resident. I tried to shake the creepiness in my mind.

I was a literature major in college, and one of my follies in life is that I am constantly trying to see the foreshadow of the stories that take place in my life as though living is a work of fiction. I thought about all the meaningful moments, or “signs” of the weekend and couldn’t shake the feeling that this was yet another one. After all, would the man have known about the resort, or the lodge, if he hadn’t followed us there? And really, would we have been out on the road if Jack weren ‘t with us? Were we still being told something? Was this an opportunity?

My partner and I whispered quietly to each other, knowing that we were the only ones who noticed this person and could identify him as an outsider. Other guests continued their evening, paying no attention. A couple argued over a game of Scrabble behind us. The women on the couch across from the man continued to giggle and drink wine. People ate their prepared meals with intimacy, not giving thought to what might be an outsider’s plight.

I’ve talked a lot about charity lately. I have looked towards the greater population to come up with the right thing. I remembered the lyrics of a song my mother and I used to sing this time of year when I was a kid: “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”

“Hi.” I sat next to him on the couch. “Were you the one on the road we saw a bit ago?”

He looked terrified. “Yes,” he replied, rubbing his hands over his knees.

“I’m pretty sure that you aren’t staying here. But are you hungry? We have food. I could make you something.”

He faltered and offered a string of half-sentences and explanations. Finally he offered, “Yes I am hungry.”

“I’ll be right back”

I didn’t have to ask. I knew that my partner would be happy to spend her birthday dinner with a hungry stranger.

I went into the shared kitchen and made some rice and beans. The folks around me washed dishes and cooked. I kept looking into the dining room through the window in the kitchen door, to make sure that no one had discovered him and was asking him to leave. An older gentleman came in with a plate of brownies to share with the visitors. I took the bowl of food and two brownies to our table. I asked the man to join us.

“What’s your name?” I asked as he put spoonfuls into his mouth. He smiled, his mouth closed, full of food.

When he swallowed, “Chuck.”

I explained how the resort was run and assured him that it would be a while before anyone caught on that he wasn’t supposed to be there. He relaxed a bit and continued eating.

When he got to a point of interval, I asked him how he got up the road.

“I hitchhiked.”

After he finished the rice and beans, we got to talking. He had been in Ukiah to apply for food stamps. The road that the resort is on travels more than 40 miles from Ukiah to Mendocino. Ukiah is the county seat for Mendocino County. It’s the place where health and human services are located for people needing assistance in Mendocino County. Mendocino County is a large county, part on the coast, part in the mountains, part in the valley. For those staying in other parts of the county, getting to Ukiah is no easy feat. For Chuck, his reasoning for trying to get back to Mendocino for the night was that the overnight temp in Ukiah was 25 degrees Fahrenheit and the overnight temp in Mendocino was 10 degrees higher, just above freezing. There are other ways to get from Ukiah to Mendocino but the springs road was supposed to be a straight shot. He got stranded on the way.

I can only assume that Chuck is an Iraq war vet. He didn’t say as much but he’s is 26 years old and mentioned PTSD. He sat up straight, the way that only a soldier does. But, almost as a way to avoid charity, or maybe judgment, failed to mention his vet status.

Chuck had been living on an Indian Reservation for the three years prior. He didn’t say what he was doing there, only that it ultimately didn’t work out. Through his blond hair and freckles, he mentioned that he didn’t quite fit in on the reservation.

He talked about the Occupy Movement, comparing it to the reservation. “It seems similar. I understand the sentiment of wanting the commons to be a place of gathering, a place without development or industrialization. The Indians on the reservations see the same value.”

Chuck was awkward but had more than a handful of intelligence backing his conversation. He recently became homeless, abandoning a situation that he characterized as “taking advantage” of him. The way he spoke about cord wood and physical labor, I understood. I too have lived in a situation where the landowners have the say and the workers can only be hopeful of their kindness.

Chuck’s parents had died when he was young. His evangelical brother in Sacramento wouldn’t take him in unless he accompanied him to church. Chuck believes in the goodness of people, and the gifts of the universe, but has a hard time taking the Christian faith at its foundation. I understand.

As the conversation meandered, I realized that he had no plan for the night and no place to stay. My partner got up to refresh our tea and I joined her in the kitchen.

I asked, “Can we offer to let him stay in our trailer? It’s your sleeping bag.”

“Of course.” She kissed me.

We went back to the table. We explained our weekend to Chuck, that we had brought our trailer but weren’t using it. I asked if he wanted to stay in the trailer for the night.

He accepted.

I told him that we could drive him back down the hill the next day, back to Ukiah. He had an appointment with health and human services on Monday to apply for General Assistance. He had already been told that the shelters were full. We suggested that he try to look into the Occupy encampments as a temporary viable option, a place for community during his transition. He agreed.

We went out to the parking lot and made Chuck’s bed. He spent the night, warm in the trailer alongside the car where Jack slept.

As we walked back to our room, I grabbed my partner’s hand and said, “I would rather do the right thing and risk the possibility of our sleeping bag getting stolen than worry about a person sleeping out in the cold when we could have prevented it.” She wholeheartedly agreed.

The next morning, the four of us, Chuck, my partner, Jack and I drove down the hill to Ukiah, each of us grateful for the gifts we had no intention of giving and thankful for the opportunity to receive them in return.

I gave Chuck some cash and a self-addressed envelope. I meant to give him my card, to have him read my blog, and to let him know him know that he restored my faith in the giving season, and that I hoped that we had restored his faith as well. I guess there was no time for that in the parking lot of the gas station where we dropped him off. We hope to hear from him soon.

Blue Christmas

Blue Christmas

I have never been a fan of Christmas. My parents divorced when I was five. Our last Christmas together was in 1985. The median household income was $23,618.00. A first class stamp cost $.20. A dozen eggs averaged $.80. A gallon of gas was $1.20. I’m not sure if my parents knew it was going to be our last Christmas together, and therefore spent the holidays trying to out-do each other, but, that year, I had gotten everything I had asked Santa for. Everything. I laugh at the faded pictures of us in our matching pajamas, crowded by hundreds of toys on the living room floor: cabbage patch kids, care bears, barbies, a playskool playhouse, a kitchen set filled with plastic food and a pretend coffee maker, a mickey mouse train set…the list goes on.

After that, my Christmases were spent at one parent’s house, breaking the heart of the other, and oscillating between the two every year after. It was a terrible precedent. I can’t remember a single gift I received from any year after 1985. Not even from last year. I quickly stopped believing in Santa and by the time I was 12, I had started writing poetry about how much I hated the holiday and everything I knew it stood for.

For many people, Christmas is a special time of year. The wallets come out for charity. Parents try to spoil their kids. Some take time to acknowledge Jesus Christ and his message of peace. (After all, it is called Christmas.)

I’m not a Christian. But I like what Jesus had to say. One of my favorite bumper stickers is: “Obama is not a brown-skinned, anti-war socialist who gives away free healthcare- you’re thinking of Jesus.” I think we’d all be better off if more people who claim to follow the teachings of Christ actually did so. The hypocrisy of Christmas appalls me. (I know there are Christians who teach peace and model charity. My best friends Julie and Jovi and my mother are examples. I’m saddened that they are not a majority.)

Every year, like seasonal clockwork, Thanksgiving ends and I am plummeted into a sense of darkness until the Christmas season is over. It’s so bad that it makes me wish Leonard Cohen would convert and put out a Christmas album.

My partner and I were at the Roseville Galleria Mall last night. Her boss, in a very sweet gesture of gratitude, for her hard work and thoughtful dedication to her job, bought her an iPad and presented it to her yesterday afternoon. (He’s not a Christian either so I can’t call it a Christmas bonus.) We are certainly grateful. But, honestly, we have never wanted or needed an iPad. (Just so you get an idea about how far from the iPad spectrum we fall, we have been saving our money to buy a flock of sheep this spring.) When she told me about the gift, it was so unexpected that I almost fell off my chair. And, less than an hour later, she dropped it and it shattered into smithereens. We were both devastated and dumbfounded—not because we suddenly needed the iPad because it was in our possession, or because, now that we had one, we were fantasizing about Smurfville, but because it really was a beyond-generous gift and we didn’t want to disappoint the gift-giver. We went to the mall and bought a replacement.

As someone who follows the peak oil movement, believes the economic downturn is permanent, believes that technology can’t save us and as someone who is gainfully unemployed, the purchase seemed so silly. My partner’s birthday is next week and I had planned to find her a nice pair of boots and shears for sheep hoof-care. The fact that we were spending money on another trinket of supposedly-life-improving technology was mind-blowing.

But that wasn’t the worst of it.

While the purchase seemed frivolous and incongruent with my values, the iPad really wasn’t the problem. I hope to use its powers for good and utilize its technology to write and post more often. As such, I feel like, for now, the gift has real value. When I told my friends about the gift, most people were blown away by our new-found treasure. But the whole mall and gifting experience has really opened my eyes to how far out of the mainstream my life has become. I’m so far out of the main stream that I don’t think anyone in my life knows how to relate to me anymore. It is a very lonely feeling.

I get that there is a psychological element to gift-giving. I understand that people to do it to bring joy to their loved ones and to show appreciation. But what if, for every gift we gave, the gift came with all the pain that went into making it? The pain of the earth after stripping its resources. The pain of oppressive labor. The pain of the social consequences. So many of the gifts we give to our loved ones come from a background of disreputable and grimy exploitation.

We moved up here to the farm almost eight months ago. I left a good-paying, (albeit insolvent,) job in social services with benefits to seek a more sustainable life. We moved away from our friends and family in Sacramento because we understand that, with the coming changes, the lack of assistance programs, budget cuts to basic services such as law enforcement and the increasing costs of food, cities will become unsafe. My partner and I are both highly-educated and critical thinkers and the writing seemed to be on the wall.

Now that we have been here for a while and have extensively lost contact with those close to us, and now that we are entering the biggest shopping season of the year, I find that I am doubting our position. Everyone else seems to be so happy with their day jobs and assorted purchases, surrounded by mounds of store-bought junk, television shows and cushy furniture.

My partner and I went and hung out with old friends while we awaited our appointment at the Apple Store at the mall. They are progressive people with progressive values. They have a six-year-old son and a son in college. I’ve know them both for twelve years. He is a song-writer and a manager of a corporate coffee store. She is a banker at a credit union. We talked about Christmas. Their 6-year-old hopes for a video game from Santa. She hopes for reduced hours at work after the New Year and more time to spend with her 6-year-old while he is little. Her husband didn’t say what he hopes for. The visit reminded me how much I don’t have in common with the average American.

Liberalism seemed simpler not just a year ago. Values were opinions that could be expressed over a glass of Chianti and a consensus could be reached by the time dinner was over. It used to be that we could all agree on social issues. Gays should have equal access to marriage. Women should have access to safe and legal choices about their reproductive health. Education is a human right. Access to health care is a social justice issue, especially for the socially-disenfranchised. World-wide hunger is an atrocity, especially when compared to the abundance and obesity in this nation. The death penalty is corrupt because it is used against people of color more so than against whites. Free speech is a constitutionally protected entitlement and sacred. These seemed to be simple values, Christian values even, and easily agreed upon.

Something has changed in my psyche, and seemingly on a national level of late, that has brought me to conclude that these issues, the issues of upmost importance, issues pertaining to social justice, are no longer as simple as we once thought. As I see it, these issues boil down to socio-economic corporatism and the chains within that corporatism that bind us. Our politicians are in bed with big business and work for corporate executives instead of the American people. Because the vast majority of our elected officials have demonstrated that they can’t be trusted to do the right thing, it is no longer enough to go to the ballot box and hope for the best. We must vote with our dollars. This truth is alienating, especially at Christmas time.

We can no longer simply fight for social issues from a social principal. We have to fight against corporate greed to have our voices heard and justice realized. We have to fight against the very institutions that are supposed to protect us and improve our lives. Our values are tied up in a monetized system that uses the system to dismantle those values. Allowing gays to marry would give gays access to survival and inheritance rights, rights which they don’t currently have under DOMA and various state laws, a phenomenon that now contributes to unequal taxation and a disenfranchisement that serves to bolster banks and contributes confiscated property to the big banks’ benefit. Continuing to allow women to have access to birth control or abortions, furthers the notion that women should have access to equal opportunities in family planning that help them to plan for careers and upward mobility that they otherwise might not have access to. Education in this country has been defunded by traditional means (taxes) while corporations get tax breaks and use private money to subsidize public colleges and manipulate access and the scope of education. Health care is dominated by profitability, disenfranchising the most uncared-for populations of this country, such as the elderly and mentally ill, while zombifying the rightfully-enraged with prescriptions for medications like Prozac and Lithium and increasing the profit margin of companies like Upjohn and Pfizer. Industrialized farming gets subsidies from the government to make food that is less-nutritious while those subsidies simultaneously put small, organic, family-run farms out of business. Black men and women are put to death on subjective evidence against them, while white executives at institutions like coal-mining companies willfully ignore federal regulations and kill people while executing illegal and dangerous working conditions but face no jail time. Corporate donations have become a federally-protected version of free-speech and financial regulations are ignored while those protesting the discrepancy, with permanent markers and poster board, are violently pepper-sprayed or hit in the head by tear-gas cannons. The people of this country are, in short, fucked.

And the whole Christmas shopping season, which props-up these lawless corporations, putting them in the “black,” under the guise of gratitude and selflessness, only serves to further the disenfranchisement of marginalized populations in this country. When we put money into the hat of our corporate churches and lobbying charities, we lessen the chance that our child will be able to marry if he is gay because those institutions use our money to fund anti-equality initiatives. When we allow state and federal regulations to diminish access to reproductive healthcare, we weaken the possibility for women to have enough power to make decisions on behalf of other women and with the entire gender spectrum in mind. When we acquiesce to educational budget cuts, we allow corporations to command the terms of education, making the education weak and biased. When we skip a public option in health care reform, we make way for corporations to dictate the needs of our health in a way that remains profitable to those in power and results in the detriment of public health. When we feed our children genetically-modified food from factory farms, we burden and toture animals while simultaneously lessening our future generation’s chances to have a long and healthy life. When we allow our brothers and sisters of color to be put to death while congruently ignoring white-collar crimes, often of of greater magnitude, and the history of socio-economic disenfranchisement that puts people of color at great risk in society, we further the legacy of slavery and white-supremacy in this country. When we forfeit our rights to free speech by allowing a police state to dictate the terms of our constitution, we sacrifice any possibility for our country’s salvation.

We did not sign up for this. Our forefathers didn’t intend for this. And it certainly isn’t the meaning of Christmas.

The desire to protest Christmas has been immortalized by Dickens’ Scrooge and Seuss’ Grinch. Neither character paint a rosy picture of Christmas protest. Alas, literary references to Christmas protest have been dominated by villains. No wonder I feel like an asshole. But maybe it’s time we switch our consciousness. Maybe it’s time that we start seeing the Christmas grab-bag for what it is: derogatory and detrimental. And for those of us, who are declining to participate in its madness, well good for us. But sad for us as well.

It is 2011. The median income in the US is $26,364.00. A first class stamp costs $.44. The average cost of a dozen eggs is about $2.00. A gallon of gas costs, on average, $3.50. Barring the underlying social issues, these numbers indicate that we are facing a critical disconnect in this country.

While I see the whole Christmas shopping tradition as just another way to contribute to the demise of social values, most of the people around me are failing to see it that way. In fact, I’m pretty sure that most people would compare me to Scrooge or the Grinch. Let’s face it: my liberal guilt and social input ruins the traditions of Christmas. Many people, my friends included, have embraced the acquisition of store-bought goods as a way to show their love for others and prop-up a dying economy, truly believing that this gesture is one that is beneficial. The fact that I find the whole institution to be corrosive and mordant makes me the anomaly, a humbug and quite frankly, very lonely.

If you’re inspired to join me in skipping Christmas this year, it won’t make you popular. But there are those that would proclaim that Christ, the man for whom Christmas is coined, was crucified for his own unpopular messages, messages of hope, charity and peace. He had the right idea. And maybe, just maybe, we could get back to that. And maybe, just maybe we could save Christmas, and the rest of us while we are at it.

In 1985, my parents used the shopping element of Christmas to fortify one final memory and set a precedent. For me, that attempt ruined Christmas for the rest of my life. In 2011, many around me are doing the same thing and with the same result. We cannot transplant the message of Christ with a message of consumerism and expect peace to follow. On the contrary, by perpetuating the status quo and extending the reaches of corporate America, we are ruining the true spirit of Christmas for everyone and for generations to come.